A critical analysis of the key geological characteristics, completion techniques, and production behaviors of the Monterey Shale wells and their comparisons with analogous major US shale plays—namely, the Bakken and the Eagle Ford—may provide insights that could eventually help the petroleum industry unlock its full potential. The present study reports on such efforts.

The Monterey Shale is very young and geologically heterogeneous compared with the Eagle Ford and the Bakken. Oil viscosity in the Monterey Shale is significantly higher, and one can also notice that Monterey oil production has declined over the years. The Monterey Shale has a field-dependent completion strategy (pattern spacing and fracturing stage), while a horizontal, uncemented wellbore completion is common in the Bakken and the Eagle Ford. In the Monterey, nonhydraulically fractured zones of horizontal and hydraulically fractured wells appear to be making approximately equal contributions to the well's cumulative production. The ongoing water-disposal operations in overlying injection zones, up to a certain extent, have affected the productivity of both types (long and short production histories) of wells. The geology also appears to have an effect on the production behaviors of horizontal and hydraulically fractured wells.

A preliminary economic analysis suggests that exploitation of the Monterey Shale is still a profitable venture. However, for sustainable development in a current price regime of USD 50/bbl of crude oil, it is necessary that production costs be reduced further. Also, compared with the Bakken and the Eagle Ford, the Monterey sits in regions of extremely high water stress (i.e., frequent occurrences of drought or drought-like conditions). However, oilfield-produced water associated with current steamflooding-based oil- and gas-production operations in the region as a base fluid suggests that it can potentially meet most of the water demand for future fracturing jobs. Also, combined use of a centralized water-management system; a less-costly, more energy-efficient, and high-capacity solar-powered desalination system; and a final sludge-management and/or residual-brine-disposal mechanism might assist the petroleum industry in managing flowback and produced waters while keeping water-handling costs low.

A combination of new enhanced-oil-recovery (EOR) methods for releasing the remaining oil from both nonfractured and fractured zones of horizontal wells and the use of oilfield-produced and recycled water for completing hydraulically fractured horizontal wells might prove to be a significant change for the future exploitation of California's Monterey Shale resource, which is subject to the toughest hydraulic-fracturing regulations in the nation and is in a region of extremely high water stress.

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